Picture it, Arlington, 1968. UTA is the defending Southland Conference champions. They sit 2-0 and at the top of the 5-team SLC. They host co-leader and 2-0 Arkansas State Indians (now Red Wolves). The winner would at least get a share of the SLC title. On top of that, UTA was riding a 15-game home winning streak. Both teams were highly regarded in the College Division ranks this year. For the cherry on top, UTA was consistently above 9,000 in attendance and often at the 10,000 mark. They would never consistently hit those numbers again in the '70's or '80's.
All that set-up would have meant nothing if this game wasn't fun, but it went to the last second. In short, this game had all the ingredients for a wonderful recipe, and then it exceeded expectations.
I'm not going to say that this game is the greatest in UTA football history, I generally don't do that type of subjective thing. But it unquestionably belongs in the top of any list.
In many ways, this was a transition game for a dynasty. UTA won the SLC in 1966 and 1967, along with a Pecan Bowl title. Arkansas State won the SLC in 1969 and 1970. Who ever won this game would likely win it all this year.
I've discussed the UTA stars for the year in previous posts (Primarily here). What I hadn't really done was the team as a whole. UTA would end the 1968 season ranked number one in the SLC in team scoring thanks to quarterback Mike Baylor, ends Jimmy Thomas and Dick Hill, fullback Danny Griffin and a line that moved people. The defense was good too, with several players who are now in UTA's Hall of Honor.
Arkansas State was the epitome of a team effort.
Freshman quarterback James Hamilton led the Indians offense. The frosh would throw for 1,238 yards in '68. He would finish his carer as stAte's all-time passing leader. More impressively, the Red Wolves are now a passing-oriented offense the NCAA has seen more of, and he is still fourth.
Frank McGuigan was the leading ground gainer. He would gain 1,220 yards in '68, an SLC record that would hold until UTA's own Derrick Jensen would break the mark in 1976. At 26.9, he still holds the single-season record for rushing attempts per game for his team. Freshman Calvin Harrell complimented McGuigan. While he wasn't the centerpiece of the Indian offense, he played enough to be a threat and he would be an Arkansas State star. He led the SLC in scoring in 1970 and rushing from 1969-71. Relating to UTA, Harrell would rush for 45 times against UTA in 1969, still number one all-time for Arkansas State.
As good as the offense was, it was the Arkansas State defense that was the signature of the program and coach, Bennie Ellender. From 1964 to 1970, Arkansas State was the SLC total defense leader except for '66 and '67. During that same time, they were the defensive scoring leader, except for '68. When you lined up against the Indians, you knew it would be a dogfight.
November 16, 1968 was no exception.
Indians nip UTA, 22-21
By KENNY HAND
ARLINGTON, Tex.-Arkansas State's Indians shot their biggest little arrow, Frank McGuigan, into the air here Saturday night, and the stubby ASU senior landed right on top of University of Texas at Arlington's title hopes.
McGuigan, a 6-0 scatback who is the leading rusher in the Southland Conference, scrambled for 101 yards on 29 carries as Arkansas State won the SLC crown, 22-21 before 9,750 fans.
But it took a gigantic break late in the game for the Indians to dethrone UTA and snap a 15-game Rebel home winning streak.
UTA forced Arkansas State to punt from the Indian 20 on fourth-and-8 with a scant 1:45 showing.
UTA's Robert Evans fumbled Kevin McCleland's punt at the Rebel 38 with only 1:45 remaining in the game, and Dan Buckley recovered for ASU, which ran out the clock.
A minute earlier McGuigan had scored his second touchdown on a 6-yard jaunt and moved ASU ahead 22-21, with a conversion run.
The Rebels moved to a 7-0 lead with 5:48 remaining in the initial quarter on a 45-yard effort of seven plays. A 29-yard run by by tailback Tim Christy and a 17-yard pass from Baylor to end Jimmy Thomas paved the way for a 3 yard TD romp by fullback Danny Griffin.
Skipper Butler, who later was to set an NCAA College Division mark with two field goals, added the extra point.
ASU mounted an 80-yard drive late in the second frame to tie. McGuigan took it in from the 2 on a pitchout from quarterback James Hamilton.
The Indians' Bill Bergey blocked a long Butler field goal try and Donnie Beshears recovered at the Reb 49 to open the third period.
ASU scored in seven plays, McGuigan surprised everyone with a tailback pass to Tom Johnson for an 8-yard TD and a 14-7 lead.
Arlington whittled the deficit to 14-13 on Butler field goals of 28 and 54 yards.
Then on ASU's next possession, Hamilton was hit by Jimmy Stoehr, and UTA rover Mike Stamps fell on the loose ball at the 27. The Rebs took advantage of the break as [backup QB Ronnie] Faulkner speared Thomas for 19, Jerry Massey ran for 6, and Griffin carried over from the 7 with 11:43 left. Mike Buchanan caught Baylor's pass for two points as the Rebs went ahead 21-14.